Royal Society aims to bring more diversity to scientific workforce

07 June 2012

The Royal Society, the UK’s national academy of science, today announced a new BIS-funded programme focused on increasing diversity in the scientific workforce. The programme, run over four years, has total funding of £700,000 and in joining a parallel programme being run by the Royal Academy of Engineering, now provides an integrated diversity programme for the Science Technology, Engineering and Maths workforce.

The new stream of work will focus on understanding the character and make-up of the scientific workforce, and look at ways to remove barriers to entry and progression so as to lead to an increase in diversity in both academia and industry. The Equality and Diversity Advisory Network (EDAN) were consulted in devising the programme and as a result the programme will be focusing on gender, ethnicity, disability, and socio-economic status. A steering group has been setup to drive the work led by Professor Dame Julia Higgins DBE FRS FREng.

The Royal Society will also shortly launch a new 18-month policy study to run alongside the programme. Possible areas of focus may include: the business case for diversity in the workforce; how much more effective are diverse teams (e.g. how diverse teams might lead to more creativity, better decision-making and better science); and how can organisations enable diversity. The study will investigate both the academic and industrial sectors.

Trends Business Research Limited (TBR) and the Science Council have been commissioned by the Royal Society to undertake research exploring socio-economic status within the science workforce.

Later stages of the programme will very much be focused on practical measures, in which the Royal Society will support and trial a number of events, pilot studies and interventions, helping to share good practice between disciplines, sectors and equality strands.

The programme and research commissioned has been shaped in part by feedback from a key stakeholder consultation and engagement conference held at the Kavli Royal Society International Centre in March 2012. Delegates from organisations including BIS, the Science Council, Department of Health, the Wellcome Trust, Atkins, TUC and Cogent were given an opportunity to input into the programme planning, share good practice and suggest ideas for focus.

Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society, says:

“Diversity is important for any workforce and as the UK seeks to use its scientific capabilities to help improve lives and rebuild the economy, it is more important than ever that we ensure the best scientists can flourish.  Our research efforts need to be organised in such a way that no groups are disenfranchised.

We must have an environment in which all scientists, including those from previously underrepresented groups, have an equal chance to excel. There’s a way to go but I feel that this new programme is an important step in creating a richer and more diverse scientific workforce.”

Professor Dame Julia Higgins DBE FRS FREng, chair of the programme steering group adds:

“The Royal Society came under a fair bit of criticism when it announced that only two women had been elected to the Fellowship this year. It’s worth noting though that the longer term trend has seen women account for around ten per cent of newly elected Fellows over the last ten years.  This is about the same ratio of women holding professorships in the sciences in the UK, which reflects the much wider problem of underrepresentation of women in science.

It’s a long recognised problem and as such there is a vast amount of work and expertise available in supporting and advancing women in science, much of which has been very successful. Our aim is that this programme learns from and builds upon this good practice so as to develop similar mechanisms that can be extended to ethnicity, disability, and socio-economic status.”